Have you met someone online who could well be the love or your life? You might want to read the following tips first to avoid becoming a victim of dating fraud.
Dating fraud essentially goes through three stages: first contact, the grooming process, crisis hits.
1. First contact
Who are these people who prey on unsuspecting victims looking for a new partner? Well, they aren’t who they claim they are. Online dating romance scammers are often Nigerians, Ghanaians or East Europeans. They’re part of criminal gangs operating from Nigeria, Ghana, South-Africa, England, Spain, the United States or Malaysia. Recently, they have been joined by con artists from the East Asia and Eastern Europe. When online, they pretend to be a different person.
The scammers create fake profiles on legitimate internet dating website, where they present themselves as an attractive, reliable type of person with a good job and a decent family. Their texts and photograph back up their image of the ideal partner.
In reality, the victim will be in contact not with one, but with several members of a criminal gang who all claim they are:
- A United States soldier
- A Caucasian businessman on a temporary assignment abroad
- A widower with a son or daughter studying
- Men who are open to contact with both white and black women
- Women who claim to be orphans and who have been left a sizable inheritance
2. Grooming process
Once the first contact has been made, the con artists will start pampering their victims with fake love, sweet-talking their way to their heart and their money. These fraudsters are genuine professionals. They’re very sophisticated and will go to great lengths to build a relationship with their victims, spending a lot of time communicating with them, trying to find out where their weaknesses lie. The scammers reveal a great deal about themselves and invite their victims to be open and sincere too. Their method resembles the tactics used by young pimps, known as lover boys in Dutch, who lure underage girls into prostitution.
When the victim has fallen in love, the fraudster will promise to come to the Netherlands. He will send over some of his belongings first. The con artist may also be an orphan seeking legal help in the Netherlands in order to claim his or her inheritance.
3. Crisis hits
The real problems start when the victim is head over heels in love. At this point, the con artist will set the stage for a crisis that only the victim (and their money) can solve. There’s been an accident, documents have gone missing, transferring the inheritance money has gone wrong.
More fictional emergencies follow, accompanied by more requests for increasing sums of money from the virtual dating partner. At this stage, victims will be hard to convince that this is fraud and will simply pay up.
In half of all cases, the money is paid through wire transfers such as Western Union and Moneygram, which are difficult to trace. Larger amounts will be sent via bank accounts.
Fraud Help Desk is working together with money agencies to better inform customers about dating scams and share information about cases of suspected fraud.
How to recognise dating fraud?
Here are a few general clues:
- The photos and emails are from Nigeria, other countries in West Africa, the United Kingdom, Spain, South Africa, Romania, Russia or Ukraine. Of course, this does not rule out the Netherlands;
- The emails are written in broken English;
- The messages contain “sob stories”.
The person you’re in touch with:
- Urges you to communicate through private email or chat;
- Is quick to shares his feelings and emotions;
- Sends a photograph of himself that looks like it’s from a magazine;
- Claims to be an American working abroad;
- Makes plans to visit you, but is unable to because of a tragic event;
- Asks money to pay for a ticket, medical emergency, visa, hotel bill, hospital bill or for the upbringing of a child or other relative;
Previously romance scammers were mostly lurking on dating sites, but now they’ve moved to other hunting grounds like Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media as well. So, be on your guard when you receive a request from a friend.
For dating scammers, Facebook is an ideal tool, giving them plenty of information about the daily lives of their targets and how to approach them. Facebook users tend to be less on their guard when it comes to dating fraud as they hardly use the network to find a new partner.
Both men (40 percent) and women (60 percent) are targeted by romance scammers. Most victims are aged between 40 and 70 and come from all walks of life. They are often lonely people at a vulnerable stage in their lives, still mourning the loss of a spouse, for example, or trying to come to terms with a divorce. 60 percent of dating fraud victims admitted to contemplating suicide after the fraud was discovered.
If you have become a victim of dating fraud, please report it to us via this form. Block the scammer’s email address and please report the matter to the police. Forward the emails you’ve received to your providers Abuse Desk.